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Plant Teachers: Marijuana and Tobacco

I remember the first time I smoked marijuana. Under amazing stars in Vermont when I was 18.  Of course there was a boy involved.

He was a redhead with long, sweet smelling dreadlocks. Something about him made my knees weak. His fluidity, his calm.

And the way he carved his board effortlessly through freshly fallen snow.

That was 20 years ago.

After that, marijuana and I had a long, complicated relationship.


At first she was my escape from everything life handed me that was challenging, then she became my life.  Then I felt I just couldn’t live without her.


Until I got hives.


And panic attacks every time I tried to smoke.


And then it was obvious we were done, over, that our relationship had become toxic and I was actually afraid to ever smoke again.


My love affair with tobacco started at exactly the same time.  After meeting the red-haired boy, I flew to Germany again to stay and work before heading to college.   All the kids there smoked hash, passing joints around with it crumbled into tobacco. My days as a smoker began.


I struggled with tobacco addiction for close to 10 years until I quit with my pregnancies, but as years went by I learned a newfound respect for tobacco when I began participating in ceremonies within the Native American community.  It was in a sweat lodge that I learned how to pray again after a decade of being pissed at God.


Nowadays I keep tobacco nearby for offering as a prayer, because this tradition entered my heart and made an impact on me.


Some people are saved in the name of Jesus, I was saved by connecting to my heart and to the Heart of it All.


In my mind all that matters is not what saves you but that you are saved at all. By love.  That you never feel alone, and that you find a connection that matters to you and opens your heart.


Fast forward another 10 years.  I am a single Mom to 2 kids, making it through by the hair of my chinny chin chin, and scraping by.  I am mostly stressed to the max, overwhelmed, panicked, and frazzled.


After an especially hard week I get it in my head that I need to smoke some weed. It’s been too long.  I need a fucking break.


So I smoke.  After so many years of not, the medicine is pure bliss.  I am in love all over again.


I feel as if the weight of the world has been lifted from my shoulders and I can breathe.  I can laugh!  What is that sound --my laughter?


It seems it has been so long since one carefree moment existed for me.


Within this space I remember what it feels like to just be myself.  No stress.  No obligations.  No fear.  No self-doubt.


Just playfulness.  Fun.  Laughter.  Oh, how I‘ve missed you!  The carefree girl who loved to have a good time, who could relax and forget about the pressures of life.  Now things are so serious and arduous --and in contrast, getting high felt fabulous.


The next day I woke up with the profound revelation that I no longer know how to let go and have fun, and what a damn shame that is!


But if you can’t remember that you ever felt differently, then how can you know how to?


Thanks to the medicine of the herb, I was able to remember that there is life beyond the walls of responsibility and obligation, and that lightness and laughter are literally just a breath away.  One need not smoke to access it, but sometimes when you are lost, there are plant teachers that can help you find your way back to your authentic self.


They don’t want you to rely on them, but they do want to assist.


Tobacco is also powerful medicine that can support us in connecting to spirit, soothe our pain, and cleanse our environment.  As with most medicines, it can be beneficial in small doses and deadly when used incorrectly or abused. It has only been in the last 100 years that its medicinal properties have been mostly ignored.


Now, I am not encouraging anyone to go out and start smoking anything, and I am certainly not about to make it a habit.


I just know that when I was lost in the demands of life, I got this message from an old friend.


Slow down, she said.  Take it easy, hun.  

Remember you have laughter inside you that needs to come out.  You used to be fun, you used to be free.  I am here to remind you to let go, enjoy life, and love the hell out of this world.


I got the message, and I intend to cultivate freedom in my mind from now on, without relying on anything but the memory that yes, I can access relaxation anytime.


It is just a breath away.




Dear suffering Mamas whose burden feels too big to bear, so UNFAIR (!):


I want to give you hope

I want to speak to you from my deepest heart buried beneath the numbness, the horror, the despair of this wretched monster we call PPD.  I want you to know that you are not, and never will be, alone.  (I know it feels like you are because we are all silenced out here, drowning, but we are here and we need you, your voice, too.) 

You think you are being overtaken by this beast, your greatest foe, but in reality she is yours to conquer, yours to embrace, yours to overcome, and ultimately, yours to ride like the mightiest of dragons.  Maybe your dragon is pink.  Imagine her, imagine her being yours, and you the master of your own destiny, riding into your wildest dreams of health and peace, stronger, better, you.

I know.  It’s so f#*king hard.

I know because in 2006 I gave birth to my second child, and 8 weeks later the world was a ride I wanted to get off.  My mind wouldn’t stop churning, sleep eluded me, and though I knew love was a language I had once spoken with ease, now it was forgotten.  I drifted slowly, then suddenly, into psychosis.  I dreamed I was kidnapped, locked in a dark trunk, suffocating and screaming for my life. 

A week later that dream came true. I was catatonic, and went to the hospital for 7 days.

After all this, I remember a good friend taking me by the shoulders, on my front porch, looking in my eyes with compassion and love.  She said with gravity and rock solid conviction:  You are going to get through this and you are going to rock the world when you do.  We are going to have a party, a “Heidi-conquered-the-world-party”, and the whole world will be invited and will cheer for you.  You’ll see, you are gonna beat this and change the world.


I didn’t believe her.  She had no idea.  I had no hope.  How could she know that?  What did she know about this awful state of mind that robs you of your ability to feel, to love, to care, to focus, to sleep, to be kind, to be yourself

 I never forgot that moment.


(By the way, she was right.)


Don’t forget.  You are gonna beat this.  You are.


And when you do, I want you to climb on your pink dragon and scream to the world that you survived, and ride on, ride on, ride on!!!


Sending you All my ferocious love,

Heidi Howes


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I believe in magic

What you are about to read is from November, 2008 -- a journal entry I stumbled upon today that made me smile and reminded me that what I need comes in mysterious ways. Here is a letter I wrote to the editor of the local newspaper today, I have never done that before! I hope it gets printed but if not, here it is.

Dear Editor and Community, November 23, 2008

I have lived here in the Bay area for most of my adult life, since I began attending Northland College in 1995. As a musician and music teacher I have met many people here and have a true love for the region’s community spirit and slow, simple pace.

About 3 weeks ago I received a surprising letter in the mail with no return address, no signature to identify the sender, and a Port Wing postmark. Folded inside the short letter were two $50 bills. The letter read:

“Dear Heidi, November 3, 2008

As a way of expressing our gratitude for a life filled with love, health, a beautiful environment, creativity, and every simple necessity, we’ve decided to begin indirectly supporting our community using the network of knowledge and compassion represented by people, like you, who have inspired us with their work, friendship, philanthropy, or spirit.

Thanks Heidi.”

When I got this letter in the mail, I was dumbfounded. Breathless. Delighted. Speechless. Giddy. Downright befuddled. And once again in awe of humanity! Such a sweet secret way of being told I have done something to inspire another and that they see me, my worth, my special something. Not to mention the glaring fact that just that day an urgent financial need had presented itself for which there seemed no apparent solution -- until your timely letter came!

Thank you with all my heart to my anonymous supporters, whoever you are. You give me hope for miracles and lift my voice to share the beauty of your act. You remind me that amazing, wonderful things happen each day and go largely unnoticed. May all who read this receive the blessing of such a loving gift as well and pass it on!


Heidi Howes

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Best of 2009: Best Album

I was driving, listening to NPR, minding my own business, when this song came on and brought me to tears in an instant.  Then it fired me up beyond belief, shook me out of my numb slumber if only for a moment, and made me feel completely and utterly alive.  That was my best music moment for 2009, thanks to Ben Harper and Relentless7's  album White Lies for Dark Times, and the song Up to You Now.



Works in Progress

There are so many exciting new things in the making!  I am happily overwhelmed with the abundance of good work I have in progress: 

  • The Musician's Assistant is getting off the ground and organized to the tune of starting my website at --bought the domain today, woot!
  •  I am working on finalizing the new book of poems, Mothersongs
  • finishing the Mothersongs album in October in Wisconsin
  • producing new songs with Jeff Ciampa here in Columbus in preparation
  • for the album after Mothersongs which is already partially written. 
  • new Kindermusik classes start in September
  • looking forward to playing more gigs in Ohio and writing new songs!

So much more, so much fun.



My Father's Voice

My Father's Voice

Written for my father while he was in a coma, not knowing if he might speak again.

We sang together in church this year, your baritone voice like a clear wind behind me as we faced the tiny congregation.

I fumbled over words, forgot that I was singing too for even then after all those years your voice was a surprise, a mystery, a guilty pleasure we don't allow. It is our secret how we love to hear each other sing.

My new mother's heart ached just then, in the middle of the hymn, for all the times we did not sing when we could've belted, dammit.

Now you sit accidentally confined across the great oceans. I wonder if you hear your own voice singing as I do? Do you sit surprised at the mystery, ache for the taste of it on your tongue?

Daddy, I like to think you hear God singing this morning, a mother's song to cradle you. And somewhere in the distant choir beyond that gracious sound you pick out my voice, as you always said you could, and then you start humming.



Taniwha and the Blue Lake of Healing

taniwhaOn September 16, 2005 I had a nightmare that flashed like lightning through my life and forever changed me.  I awoke from the dream at 4 a.m.with no recollection except for the terror shaking my body and the sound of a monstrous splash.  Pulling my 18-month old son to my breast for his night feeding, I shut my eyes against the vision.  As I closed again to sleep I imagined the tip of a cold, heavy tail of some great scaled monster brush my cheek and fix itself to the curve of my shoulder, as if to begin to carry me away. That morning was strange as I woke to the same everyday stuff I was accustomed to with a small child and a husband in our small town home.  But I was in the most awful, angry mood.  At 10 am the repairman came to fix the thermostat as nights had begun to get cold in Northern Wisconsin, and I went about playing with my toddler and making small talk with the furnace guy.  My mood had begun lifting slightly when the phone rang and my father's secretary spoke on the other line.

"Heidi, this is Mrs. Wynn, " she said.  "I'm so sorry.  There's been an accident."

The rest of the conversation was a blur as she told me about the car accident that almost took my father's life while he was vacationing in New Zealand.  My father who was a picture of health at 54 with all 4 of his children just grown and out of the house;  my father the Christian Scientist whose advanced directive clearly states DO NOT RESCUSCITATE;  my father whose head just collided at 100 mph with the bumper of a Land Rover.  The repairman stood half frozen in horror and awkwardly but sweetly asked if there was anything he could do, witnessing the phone call tragedy of a stranger's life, and my young son tried to cheer me as I frantically absorbed the news and went about delivering it to my 3 siblings and figuring out what the hell to do.

In this alternate reality of crisis, a whole world opens up and begins to show itself anew.  The body and mind are hyperaware, and we easily see how all things are connected.  In my dream-like state I remember that just 2 weeks before I took my young family 1000 miles to Ohio to visit my father, the last time we would see him whole, how all my siblings gathered in a rare and precious weekend together, and how he peculiarly happened to rise so early on that morning that we left in the car just to say "I love you" one more time.  I will never forget how I felt when I looked at him standing on his porch in his robe waving, nor how, while driving away, I said to my husband  "Why do I feel like this might be the last time I will see him?" 

It's Friday and I am still on the phone, making arrangements to fly to New Zealand.  Saturday morning we are off to Ohio where my son and husband will stay with my mother-in-law for 2 weeks, and my sister and I embark from Columbus, Ohio on Saturday evening, making it to Dunedin on the South Island by Sunday evening.

While on the plane I listen to soothing music as if it is saving my very life, keeping me afloat within the rushing river of fear and grief and pain over the uncertainty of Dad's fate.  I dream again of a serpent-bird-dragon that tattooes the whole of my left arm, circling around and around me forever, guarding me.

The rest of the story is hard to tell.  My father lay in the ICU looking like nothing we had ever seen before, nor could have imagined.  His skull was fractured in multiple places, both his wrists and right hip shattered, and tubes of all forms emerged from his skull and body like some long, living tentacles.  We sang him songs and prayed and read him his favorite passages from the bible.  We asked the doctors questions they could not answer, tried to find some peace in the beauty of the island, and listened to our father's girlfriend tell us the story of how she held his head together to keep him alive for 90 minutes while the EMS tried to free him from the tiny rental car.

One of those first days in New Zealand my sister and I called home to our brothers and begged them to come be with us.  The doctor had said that he was touch and go but there was a good chance he would live, and so our 2 brothers chose to stay at home and said that they were at peace with whatever happened to Dad.  My sister and I were shocked because we wanted them there, felt sure that Dad needed them too. Of course, there are many reasons why someone wouldn't fly across the world spontaneously, but if there ever was a good one, this was it.  Somehow in their decision to stay behind we felt they missed a crucial piece of the experience and if Dad did die, that they might never forgive themselves.  Or that we might never forgive them.

In those two weeks in New Zealand, I felt the presence of something huge and awesome in its power, something protecting and guiding me that I had never before experienced.  I was never afraid.  I was never alone.  There always seemed to be something pulling me along.  I walked the streets of Dunedin looking at the people, and it seemed on every street corner there appeared large, hulking men with tattooed faces, the Maori Ta moko markings that some say are maps to the spirit world.  They were everywhere, and every time looking directly into my eyes with what seemed a warrior-like compassion.  What might have otherwise been strange or fearful was comforting and delightful.  They seemed to be my sentries and guards in this world down under. . . .

I found my way by curious circumstance to a tattoo parlor named "Visual Intelligence".  Owned by a young Maori man named Aaron Manuel, I knew when I walked in that this was the man meant to tattoo me.  I told him I had had a vision of an animal, something like our North American Natives' thunderbird -- sometimes friend, sometimes foe -- but that the bird was also like a snake.  I couldn't quite put my finger on it, yet he knew exactly what it was, something I had never even heard of:  a Taniwha (Tuhn-ifa).

This dragonlike creature is so revered by the Maori people that as recently as the year 2000, a large road construction project that was being planned through an area believed to be inhabited by a legendary taniwha was moved so as to not disturb the creature's habitat.  This must've been the powerful creature that splashed out of the ocean in my dream and curled its tail around me to carry me and my sister against all odds across the world to reunite with our father.     

Sure enough, Aaron Manuel searched for the legendary taniwha that would be my tattoo and spiritual protector, and the first story he came across was one about a chief's daughter who is lost at sea.  The chief begs the Taniwha to save his daughter and bring her back to him.  The taniwha does.

My relationship with my father was close, but so difficult and strange I couldn't make a move in life without fear of what he might think.  His anger while raising us was so explosive and unpredictable that even as he lay comotose and casted, I still feared getting close to him.  This was a great burden on my heart,  for all I ever wanted was to be able to call him Daddy, to hold him close and love him dearly without fear keeping me at distance.  Each time I had tried to do this through my life I had been deeply hurt by him, most likely unbeknownst to him, and so the cycle continued year after year.  In New Zealand while singing at my father's bedside, my greatest fear was not so much that he would leave us in death, but that my walls might not come down soon enough to show him how much I truly loved him before he went.  I needed something to bring me back to him.

It has now been four years since my Dad's accident and he lives in Ohio in my childhood home.  His then girlfriend is now his wife, and graciously cares for him as he slowly recovers from the severe brain injuries he suffered in the New Zealand accident.  The miscommunications my siblings and I have had with his wife have been excruciating, to say the least, and along with the many hardships that come in facing the loss of a loved one as you knew them, we have all struggled to find a place in our father's new life since he returned from New Zealand 3 months after his accident.

My small family moved back to Ohio this year to be closer, and now my husband and I have a second child , a daughter who is almost 3.  My siblings have all slowly moved back to town as well and yet we often still drag our feet on visiting our father.  He is a stranger with strange delusions, memories,  and moods, but if we are lucky sometimes we can glimpse a slight view of the man we once knew.  Relations with his wife have been so strained that many times I picked up the phone to call only to set it down as quickly for fear that she might answer the phone.  It has been a heavy and hard burden because in our grief, and in the feelings of being ostracized from his life by his new wife, we have in some ways let go of him.

This is a story deep and dark and glorious that needs to be told.  It is a story filled with despair and yet brimming with hope.  This is how I see it.  They told us we'd be lucky if he could brush his own teeth, yet he cooks meals and plays with his grandchildren, plays piano.  He loves movies that make him want to cry and remembers things that I never knew about him, like that he always wanted to be a world class singer and a film critic.

Last week I had a vision in a workshop with the dream teacherRobert Moss.  He invited us to journey to the Blue Lake of Healing which was told by Cherokee legend to be a real place where animals, spirits, and people alike could seek real healing.  This lake lies just above the clouds and can be accessed in our dreams or visions or when guided there by a real shaman versed in soul healing like Moss himself.  In my dream I see blood on the ground, and I go in search of the animal who is wounded.  I see above me on the trail a young female gorilla who is bleeding from a wound in the left side of her abdomen.  She swings herself up the path swiftly, and I follow her in a rush.  As we arive at the Lake it is there, just above the clouds, just as Robert said it would be, and it is beautiful and clear as can be.  I see the gorilla belly flop herself into the water as if she can't possibly go any further and has collapsed, but when she emerges she is free of blood and full of energy, walks herself out of the water to the white sandy beach and sits, looking at me, as if to say go on in.  

Timidly I approach the water and then finally dive in, feeling the cool renewal enter my body as if all the tension and weight of this life have been completely relieved.  Then I invite my friends who have been hurting and whose pain is close to my heart.  I bring my husband and we  swim together and we are so happy.

Then I see him.  My Dad is here!  He is healthy and standing straight up, he is diving with such vigor into the water, off a diving board.  His smile is radiant and his laugh is contagious.  He flips his short black hair back when he comes out of the water, rubs his eyes and laughs.  This is how I remember him, the best of him, and I feel my heart squeeze in relief for this time with him again.  He gathers us together on the sand, suddenly my brothers are there, sitting beside him, and our spouses and my sister.  My brothers are finally crying the tears that I wish for them to heal their pain, my father is holding them and comforting them as if to say You see, I am here, I am still your father, the one you know in your heart.  All is well.   You can find me here anytime you like.  I am never far away.  Come to me here where we will always be together, playing and laughing. 

The love I feel in this place is more real than any I know in the shadow world of waking where everything is less bright and more fettered with form.  My healing is real, as Robert said it would be, and when I wake from the drumming I feel as if the taniwha has kissed me once again, on the forehead, saying Yes, child, you knew this was here all along.  Now come back again and take this healing into the world.  Wake up to the real world of your imagination where you can always find what you are looking for.

This past week I woke up on a Friday and felt pulled again by some unseen force.  I dragged my feet.  I had been avoiding going to see my Dad because he didn't show up to the Memorial Day BBQ my sister planned for him where all of us waited and waited and he didn't come.  It was incredibly painful and he never returned my calls so I felt rejected plus add to that the fact that his wife's moods are unpredictable and I always find myself upset by something that she says or does whenever I see her.  Nonetheless I get up, forego working, steer the car North, to my Dad's house, the place where all my dreams take place, where mostly lately I am angry with him because I don't understand why this task has been given to us.  He is so unrecognizable!  How do I start over with him?

I go to the door and knock.  I bring my own lunch so as not to impose.  I am so nervous.  They are surprised to see me but if I try to set up a time to get together I don't get called back so I just show up today. 

I stay for a long time. 

We talk.  We cry.  We sing music together.  I begin to understand things in a different way than before.  Something shifts.  When I leave 5 hours later I have been somehow changed by the exchange, and again my father is teaching me, teaching me.  I call my brothers, I call my sister.  I say let's get together.  Sunday evening.  Let's talk about Dad, something we haven't done in 4 years.  They agree. 

Perhaps my dreams may still come true.

taniwha2 . . .